Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Things To See: Art Deco Glamour At Upton House

On Sunday, we visited Upton House in Banbury, Warwickshire; former home of the Bearsted family (otherwise known as the founders of Shell oil). It was such a warm, beautiful day and a real pleasure to walk around outside and admire the house from every angle, which is an especially nice memory now that we seem to be well and truly into  a succession of grey autumn days. The house is Georgian and built of golden Cotswold stone; long and sprawling, and the gardens and grounds expansive and beautifully thought out. The National Trust have taken particular pains to maintain the ambience of the 1930s, both inside and out, and somewhat unusually, the house retains that comfortable feeling of a true home. A record player  sits in Lady Bearsted's bedroom; an evening gown hangs out ready for wear and beneath it sits a pair of shoes. There are many little details like this scattered around the house, together with a myriad of family photographs. 

The 1920s and 30s were when the house was really in it's heyday and it is a testament to Art Deco style. Best of all for me is the astonishing bathroom, commissioned by the then Lady Bearsted to be an opulent place of wonder. The room really is silver; in fact, the walls and ceiling are covered in aluminium leaf, which at the time of building, was an even more expensive commodity then gold. It is garish, angular and ostentatious, but stylishly so in a way that a lot of Art Deco interiors are. Lady Bearsted wanted her personal bathroom to be a place where she could lounge in splendour; her husband's wealth on conspicuous show.  You can imagine many long, bubble-filled hours spent in the deep bathtub, or preening before the huge mirrors. The luxurious nature of the bathroom was part of a growing trend for beautiful, purpose built bathrooms in an age where ordinary people were still getting used to having separate rooms for washing and bathing. The National Trust have restored the lustre of the silver and red scheme and reinstalled the bathroom's fixtures and fittings as they would have been in the 1930s, right down to commissioning a replica of a small vanity mirror photographed in situ after the bathroom was first finished.

Upton House is well worth a visit; not just for the bathroom (although you could stand slack-jawed in there for a good long while), but for it's beautiful art collection, vast gardens and complete charm. A lot of Trust properties close their doors to the public during the winter months, but Upton House stays open all year round, and I imagine would be wonderful to visit in December for an Art Deco flavoured Christmas. See you there for cocktails, perhaps...?

Image courtesy of The National Trust.


  1. I think the challenge of living in the British Isles must be finding an excuse to stay at home. A person could travel 365 days a year for a lifetime to see and to study the history of its places and its people.

    By the way, Laura, I think your descriptive writing is superb. I am envious, and I am serious when I say that.

  2. I will definitely join you for a cocktail, Laura. Your descriptions had me wishing I could go there right this minute. I'd love a soak in that fabulous bath.
    Thanks so much for your visits. I've really been so busy that I haven't had any reading time lately...an oddity for me. I love visiting you here. Your writing is a special and rare treat in the blogosphere.

  3. Laura,
    You have such a wonderful way of describing places that makes me "see" it, even though I've never been there. I'd love to go and take a bubble bath in that lovely bathroom, perhaps with a glass of champagne at my side.....

  4. Fram Actual- Thanks for visiting! I can only echo your words. I've lived here all my life and am still learning and exploring. We're a small country, but there's no shortage of things to see. Thank you for your feedback on my writing, I really appreciate it and am so glad that you've enjoyed reading!

    Catherine- See you there, definitely! A lot of Trust properties are running Candle-lit evenings this December and I would love to see Upton by candlelight. Thank you for your positive, lovely words. They mean so much. I hope you find the time to relax soon... :)

    Ingrid- Thank you; it's what I always hope for when I'm writing, and it means a great deal to know that you "see" it. I would love to take a bath there, too...so decadent!